After a few problematic or outright fake memoirs whose nuances left me somewhat sympathetic to the authors, it’s kind of a relief to come across one that’s simply wrong, any way I look at it. From the New York Times (“Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction,” by Motoko Rich):
In "Love and Consequences," a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.
The problem is that none of it is true.
Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members.
Who dropped the dime? Seltzer’s big sister, who saw an article in the paper and called the book’s publisher, Riverhead. Seltzer confessed, though she claims she was lying for altruistic reasons:
"For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to," Ms. Seltzer said. "I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk. Maybe it’s an ego thing – I don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it."
Yes, I often find that the best way to bring attention to someone else’s plight is to claim their problem as my own.
Seriously, although a number of people have proposed solutions to the problem of memoirs, how many more faked and flawed memoirs will have to be exposed before publishers come to some consensus about how the category is to be treated?
I still think the simplest thing is to assume that memoirs, like our memories, are flawed. And perhaps they should be shelved with fiction–any memoirs wanting to earn their stripes as nonfiction should offer footnotes or endnotes.
But, in any event, any time someone wants to publish a memoir about the tough times they’ve endured, the publishers owe it to everyone involved to make a half-dozen phone calls to verify the basic facts of the book. This one could have been caught pretty easily.
Update: The Booklist review of Love and Consequences. Starred. So maybe it still works as a novel.